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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Jugo and Suck

One of our favorite patterns of sound change between English and Spanish is the sh/j shift: under the influence of arabic, many words that had a “s” or “sh” or “sy” or “ch” sound in Latin, started to be pronounced with the throat-clearing sound and written with a “j”. See sherry/jerez and chess/ajedrez or syrup/jarabe, for example.

Another example of this pattern is the Spanish word for “juice”, jugo. It comes from the Latin succus meaning, “juice” (particularly sap, or juice from plants).

From this Latin root succus we also get the English… suck.

Yes, if it sucks — it is juicy! Literally!

We can see the mapping in the s-c to j-g mapping. The “c” and “g” sounds are similar and often interchanged.

Interestingly, in Spain they do not say jugo to mean “juice”; instead, they say… suco. Suco, funnily enough, also comes from the same root of succus. It is just the variation that never underwent the arabic “j” transformation.

From the same root we also get the English succulent, although we do not get the superficially similar English juice, which comes from the Latin ius, meaning, “sauce.”

Enojar and Annoy

Enojar, Spanish for “to get angry”, has a fun cousin in the English, annoy.

Both of these (along with the French for “worldly boredom”, ennui) come from the Latin inodiare, meaning, “to hate”. The Latin in- adds emphasis to the odium, Latin for “hate”.

We can see the parallels in all with the open vowel, followed by the -n-, followed by a -y- sound, although in Spanish the -y- sounds (and its corresponding -x- and -sh- variations) often turned into the -j- sounds, as it did here. Thus, the a-n-y maps to the e-n-j.

Hatred, then, dissipates and weakens over time. In English, hatred weakens into mere annoyance. In Spanish, hatred weakens into just anger, enojo. And, best of all, hatred in French weakens into a world-weary boredom of ennui.

Ajedrez – Chess

Ajedrez (Spanish for “chess”) sounds nothing like the English chess, so they can’t be first cousins… right?

Wrong. The Spanish “j” sound — pronounced with an Arabic-ish throat-clearing sound — was originally pronounced with a “sh” or “ch” sound. The arabic influence changed the pronunciation to be closer to the arabic: see sherry/jerez, for example.

Ajedrez and Chess are another example of this same interesting pattern. Try to imagine the “j” in ajedrez with a ch- sound and you almost get chess.

Both, curiously, come from the same Sanskrit word for the game: chaturanga (so the English ch- is thus preserved closer to the original sound — English didn’t have the arabic influence that Spanish did). And these came to both languages via the Persian, chatrang. The traders and travelers, after all, are the ones who change languages.

Valija – Valise

In some of the Spanish words, they say maleta to mean “suitcase.” But in other parts, such as Argentina, they say valija.

Valija, although it sounds different from anything English, actually is quite similar to the almost-forgotten–my grandparents still use it!– English word, that also means “suitcase” , of valise.

Although they sound different, the connection becomes clear if we remember the pattern of the sh- to j- conversion: Latin words that had an sh- sound tended to turn into the j- sound in Spanish. Think of sherry/jerez.

In this case, the French valise entered English unchanged but when the French word was borrowed into Spanish, it was Spanish-ified with the s- sound turning into a j- sound. Thus, the v-l-s maps to the v-l-j.

Bajo – Base

The Spanish bajo, for “low”, sounds unlike the similar words in English…. except for base.

Think about base as the core foundation or support — the lowest thing holding everything else up — or even in the old Shakespearean sense of “vile”, “the basest weed” —  the connection makes much more sense.

Both come from the Latin basis (meaning, “foundation”) — from which we also get the same English, basis.

And think of the bass cleff in music, for the lower notes, as well.

The surprising connection is explained easily when we understand that a lot of sh- and si- and related sounds in Latin turned into j- in Spanish. Thus, the b-s maps to b-j almost exactly.

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